Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fatah vs. Hamas: An Analogy

I wrote in my last post: "Fatah now represents the power and prestige of the Palestinian middle class, the dictatorship of its bourgeoisie: growing businesses and banks, women's emancipation, universities, infrastructure and construction projects, regional networks of intellectual capital, a sovereign wealth fund..." This article, from Germany's Der Spiegel, will give you some better idea of what I mean.

The Palestinians hope to receive United Nations approval for an independent state in September, and the chances are good that the world will approve. In the last year and a half, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has brought radical change to the Palestinian Autonomous Authority, at least in the West Bank. Ministries now operate much more effectively than in the past, when they were little more teahouses for the minions of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. A commission is discussing a constitution, and Fayyad has had 2,250 kilometers (1,406 miles) of roads paved and connected villages to the power grid. Unemployment has declined to 17 percent in the West Bank, compared with 37.4 percent in the Gaza Strip. More than 500 new companies have been established in the last few months alone. From the UN to the World Bank, many seem convinced that Palestine is ready for independence.

Ramallah now has a five-star hotel, sushi restaurants and parking meters. A rotating, panoramic restaurant will soon open its doors on the 28th floor of the Palestine Trade Tower, floating above Ramallah like a spaceship. The economy grew by 9.3 percent last year. Samir Abdullah, the former planning minister, current president of the Rotary Club and head of an economic research institute, says: "When we finally have access to our resources and are no longer restricted by the occupation, our economy will be able to grow by 25 percent a year, and then we'll be the new tiger economy."

Fatah's conception of statehood, rooted in an emerging civil society--its spine, a promising private sector, along with its secular freedoms, including cooperation with Israel--is now far more palpable than what Hamas has to offer. The problem, again, is that a promising private sector is not necessarily a sustainable one. Statehood will be stillborn without an end to the occupation, soon, and everybody knows it. The elephant in the room is Israel's control of access of people and goods, as well as occupation of Area C and the closure of Gaza to West Bank businesses.

Fatah offers the state. What Hamas offers is anger and solidarity in the face of this stifling occupation.

THE ANALOGY IS to what the Irgun offered in the late 1940s as compared to the Jewish Agency leadership under Ben-Gurion and Weizmann. The Histadrut and Hevrat Ovdim built up the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine in the 1930 within the British occupation, and founded the Haganah defense force. The Irgun, by contrast, projected the charisma of sacrifice and violent resistance. Its leaders (demagogically) accused Ben-Gurion and his circles of collaborating with the British precisely because building requires cooperation. Blowing something up requires only imagined purity.

If the US hopes to influence Palestinian politics, it must now show ordinary Palestinians that Abbas's leadership of the unity government will indeed lead to statehood. If it follows Netanyahu's lead, and boycotts Abbas's unity government--reinforcing despair of ending the crushing occupation, or ending the settlement project--it will not strengthen Fatah, but play directly into Hamas's hands.

Abbas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and committed to democratic process. That should be good enough. It will take a generation of sovereignty for an underground movement like Hamas to either disappear or be domesticated into just another political party.

"The appeal to halt our work for some time," Ben-Gurion told the St. James Palace Conference in 1939, "resembles an appeal by happy families, blessed with many children and living in comfort, to a woman after many years of childlessness is about to give birth... When she is overtaken with birth pangs, the neighboring women rebuke her and shout: 'Could you stop this noise so that we can sleep in peace?' The mother cannot stop. It is possible to kill the child or kill the mother; but it is impossible to expect her to cease giving birth."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Palestinian Unity: "No Plan B"

"A 'unity government' or 'technocracy'--as the Palestinians called it yesterday--is a nice but empty headline," Aluf Benn writes in this morning's Haaretz. He goes on:

In real life, there is no a-political rule and there are no egalitarian governments. There is always a ruling side with partners being dragged behind it. The stronger, more organized, better armed side, i.e. Hamas, will rule the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, not 'technocrats.' This is how the communists took over East Europe after WWII.

Benn is putting Israeli fears in a nutshell--not unreasonable fears--but also revealing Israeli reflexes about Palestinian politics, and politics in general, perhaps. Aren't the choices complex for Palestinians? You hit the phrases "real life" and "better armed" and you can almost hear the Sabra's mind going click. Of course Hamas will win. That's the way the world works. Don't be naive. Think of Communists in Eastern Europe. Never miss a chance to miss...

IT IS TIME to get real, which is not quite the same as what Benn means by "real life." Is Hamas stronger and more organized than Fatah? No. Fatah still dominates the institutions of the PLO. It is still Palestine's incumbent, the custodian of its history and manager of its patronage. As Khalil Shikaki's most recent polls show, Hamas has lost popular support in Gaza since the split. Insiders suggest this is not only because its confrontations with Israel have produced devastation, but also because of its religious and other repressions and the corrupt profiteering of Hamas leaders from the tunnels. Nor has Hamas's patron in Damascus exactly distinguished himself. As the Arab spring evolved, there have been models of "steadfastness" that did not have an Islamist cast.

As of March, even after the collapse of Abbas's strategy of engaging with Israel, Shakiki's polls show the president winning the presidential election in both the West Bank and Gaza, though Fatah's Marwan Barghouti would win more handily. In Gaza, about 70 percent say the Haniyeh government has been "so-so" to "very bad." Only about 50 percent of West Bankers say this of Salaam Fayyad's government. Over 70 percent of Gazans believed that a Fatah win would be necessary to lift any potential international boycott of Palestine.

Abbas's police force in the West Bank is armed well-enough: not nearly as well-armed as it might be (Abbas complained to me in January that, because of American caution, his police force has one rifle for every two officers), but capable of holding its own. And Hamas has been infiltrated by both Fatah and Israeli collaborators in the West Bank; Fayyad has thrown a good many Hamas people in jail, which is why, surprisingly, more West Bankers than Gazans are dubious about press and other freedom in the West Bank.

For God's sake, Communists took power in Eastern Europe because Stalin's troops occupied these countries. What significant prestige Salaam Fayyad has lost since moving from Finance Minister to Prime Minister has to do precisely with Israeli troops occupying his country; though most appreciate the law and order, Fayyad's police, unfairly perhaps, is regarded as something imposed by an outside, hostile power.

WHAT BENN REALLY means, I guess, is that Hamas has become the symbol of armed resistance to occupation--because of its missiles, rejectionism, bloody-mindedness, etc. In this he is surely right. And the polls over the years show that Hamas popularity rises inversely with pessimism about peace, corresponding with Israeli hardening of occupation and settlement. Why then assume Hamas will "rule" unless Benn is also just assuming the status quo from which rejectionists gain? Why is unity a "bonanza" for Netanyahu and Lieberman not a "bonanza" for Hamas?

Perhaps Benn is not intending this, but you read the phrase "stronger, more organized, better armed" and the image evoked is of a defeated people, living in rubble, not terribly well-educated, surviving from day to day; a people mad as hell about Zionism, or the occupation, or from being pushed around--in any case, tolerant of atrocities, and easily impressed by the militia and soup kitchen at the mosque.

Some Palestinians fit the template, no doubt. But what Benn is missing is how Fatah--which began as a secular nationalist insurgency--has over the last decade become closely associated with international sources of funding and investment. By implication, Fatah now represents the power and prestige of the Palestinian middle class, the dictatorship of its bourgeoisie: growing businesses and banks, women's emancipation, universities, infrastructure and construction projects, regional networks of intellectual capital, a sovereign wealth fund. It means impressive, corresponding successes of Palestinian entrepreneurs in Jordan. Fatah means the promise of gaining international recognition for a state that is not simply an armed gang with a grievance. It means "September."

BENN IS RIGHT that the word technocrat can be empty; but in this case it is a euphemism we need to understand. Abbas's Fatah now means an endorsement of a development path that puts emphasis on the expansion and valorization of the Palestinian private sector: the creation of a viable state's embryo within the occupation, though things cannot stop here. Abbas, and Fayyad, too, know that the womb is too small and inhospitable for this embryo to survive without an end to occupation.

Unity means that Abbas has reached the limits of this strategy, since talks with Olmert ended, and Obama has proven unwilling to stop Netanyahu's settlement project. Nevertheless, Abbas's Fatah symbolizes building, diplomatic victories, streams of funding, which are still more impressive than anything Hamas can point to. (A third of West Bankers say "the spread of unemployment and poverty" is the biggest problem they face, significantly greater than even the occupation and disunity, though you double-click on this and you find that poverty and the occupation's crimping of businesses are intertwined.)

It is therefore very premature to write Abbas and Fatah off. Yes, young people in the West Bank find Hamas's hard-line message appealing, the way young Israelis favor the right. But almost 50 percent of Palestinians say the top priority is "Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital." Only about 25 percent suggest the priority is "obtaining the right of return to refuges to their 1948 towns and villages," code for fighting Israel to the finish.

IN JANUARY, AFTER I interviewed Abbas in Amman, I went out to dinner with a friend, a senior member of Abbas's economic team. I asked him how, in view of what was unfolding in Egypt, he deals with the obvious pressures.

After all, I said, the development path of any emerging economy requires entry into the global system. This is bound to produce serious inequalities between educated and not-so-educated people, which in turn will produce explosive tensions. "But in the case of Palestine," I said, "the tensions have an extra dimension, for development is under occupation. Inequalities seem to be a product of occupation, and entrepreneurs getting rich seem like Quislings." My friend thought for a moment, then looked me sadly in the eye. "I have no Plan B," he said. I could have kissed him.

Indeed, nobody in Palestine has a Plan B. "We don't really know what unity means, since the document is not yet released," Sam Bahour told me this morning. "But let's keep our eye on certain things. Did the unity agreement get a yellow light from the Americans? We'll see if the money keeps flowing. Fayyad is rumored to be out of the prime minister's job, because he has become a focus for Hamas resentment; but will he retain his job as Finance Minister? That would be a sign of continuity, though the circles of business people and professionals he represents will continue irrespective of whether or not he stays."
Other things to notice. The same way Hamas's patron in Syria has lost ground, Abbas lost his patron in Egypt. Perhaps unity is simply a way for both sides to reassess and save face. Certainly, the outcome of elections in Egypt will give heart to one side or another.

Abbas said the PLO, which he heads, would still be responsible for "handling politics, negotiations." But  unity agreement almost certainly means Abbas will not entertain new, direct negotiations with Israel, or perhaps even proximity talks with Mitchell, whose role Abbas just pooh-poohed to Dan Ephron in Newsweek. Then again, if a Palestinian state is indeed going to gain international recognition at the UN, the free election of a united people will be necessary sooner or later.

"The key is that the world should work with whatever government is elected," Bahour, no supporter of Hamas, told me. "Even Hamas people will quickly learn the facts of life. The first thing Hamas people did when they entered the government in 2006 was approve a contract with an Israeli oil supplier. They will learn responsibility now as well."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Finger

In response to my recent post on borders, Doug Suisman, the urban architect and planner behind the RAND Corporation's ARC Project, sent me this thoughtful note:

I agree that the “fingers” of Ariel and Maale Adumim (more like a thumb in the latter case) are a nearly insuperable obstacle to the needed contiguity for successful statehood. It would be like asking New Yorkers to accept a miles-long high-security barrier belonging to Canada or Mexico (or perhaps more aptly in terms of hostility, Cuba) interposed between Manhattan and Newark, or Angelenos to accept such a wall between downtown Los Angeles and the port of Long Beach.

In my view, it’s not so much because of the actual settlement area itself – problematic though this is – which is more like the fingernail on the finger. It’s the whole security cordon needed to connect the settlement to the mother ship – the finger to the fingernail. Israel’s perceived security and sovereignty interests demand that the settlements be the tips of peninsulas rather than islands. (It’s the old French Hill / Hebrew University problem writ large). Maale Adumim and Ariel are described as settlements, but can also be read as salients: “A military position that projects into the position of the enemy."

I do think it would be possible for Israel to keep the original core of Maale Adumim, if the Palestinians could run the Arc in the valley between it and Jerusalem. In other words, two umbilicals: an Israeli one east to west, and a Palestinian one north to south. As you know, such a double-umbilical, or dual sovereignty crossroads, was employed twice in the ‘48 partition plan, one near Qustina in the center and the other near Nazareth in the north. I don’t know if it would have ever worked.

Israel might refuse to accept this as a security arrangement, and the Palestinians might be reluctant to accept it as a sovereignty arrangement. But as you pointed out in your NYTimes mag piece, prospects for peace in the region may stand perched on such precise, and unusual, geographic arrangements.

Also, Haaretz's Amir Oren reminds Republicans that Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger's most distinguished acolyte, has been urging Obama to present a comprehensive plan, including a view on the territories to be exchanged. since before the new administration come into office:

"When Obama was elected, the Republican Scowcroft and the Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski both entreated him to act immediately to implement the four-point plan for a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the 1967 borders - even before Israel's 2009 elections and with the hope of influencing the elections' outcome - but to no avail. The plan envisaged minor and agreed-on modifications of the border, compensation instead of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem as a joint capital of two states, and security for Israel by demilitarizing the Palestinian state and stationing an international force there. Scowcroft also supported the idea of an American force on the Golan Heights if peace is achieved with Syria and territories are returned to that country.

Obama has wasted two years in the expectation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will pull himself together. Scowcroft has seen four decades of missed opportunities pass before his eyes. Obama should learn from Scowcroft not merely the layout of the plan, which would receive the backing of certain groups among the Republicans, but also the need for immediate action. Fears about upsetting the Israeli government, or about the president's rivals in U.S. politics joining forces with the supporters of a rigid Israeli line, could be a recipe for failure and disaster."

Monday, April 25, 2011


I can't prove this, but I sense (forgive me) a paradigm shift among Israelis, a new way of talking to accommodate the anomalies emerging from the old puzzle pieces--you know, the puzzle that begins with "Zionism" and ends with "Iran." The biggest anomaly is "September."

The reference, of course, is to the impending decision of the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine in the 1967 borders. But "September" also means puzzle pieces fitting together, at least for Israelis who constitute the "center": people who are not so deeply committed to Greater Israel that the very word diplomacy feels like a threat, or an invitation to a propaganda effort, or both; people who are not cloistered in settlements or Yeshivot or Jerusalem Gem├╝tlichkeit; people for whom elections still feel like decision points;  people who ask the questions and give the answers on Israeli radio; people who can be the difference between a 65 seat majority for the parties of Greater Israel or a 65 seat majority for the parties of Global Israel.

1. For two generations, the people of the center--now, provisionally, Kadima voters, but intermittently Likud voters on the right, and Labor on the left--have talked about the importance of getting to a peace with the Palestinians, but what they've really wanted, or thought post-1967 realities demanded, was something like the status quo, in which the West Bank could double as "Judea and Samaria." Now there is a deadline for a decision. Will Israel be a part of the world community or not? Inaction invites violence and insurrection, as in the rest of the Middle East.

2. The Palestinian middle class--so centrists supposed--had mostly gone to Jordan, and Israeli business and banking would dominate in the territories. Now it is clear that the Palestinian middle class is not only not leaving, it is organizing a mini-state in Ramallah, which is far more attractive to Palestinians--so you find in poll after poll--than the failed Hamas minier-state in Gaza. The Palestinian middle class is the only real bulwark against Hamas in Palestine, as it is the bulwark against Islamist violence in Jordan, for that matter. No interim agreement now makes sense, since Palestine's private sector cannot take off without East Jerusalem and Area C.

3. The occupation, in this context, is not just a vague way for Zionism to thrive, but a clear barrier to Palestine growing in healthy ways. The World Bank reports: "Ultimately, sustainable economic growth...will not rebound significantly while Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets remain in place, and as long as investors are deterred by the increased cost of business associated with the closure regime."

4. Settlers, then, are not culture heroes--people with "values," admirably activist--but a potentially dangerous bunch to be managed, compensated. Increasingly, they appear as historical mistakes, if not international outlaws. True, young Israelis generally express angry, even racist views. (They are young.) But they are not going to settlements.

5. The UN matters, because countries other than the US matter. Israel is economically tied especially to Europe. Become the spoiled brat of the Western world--make EU companies unwilling to work with you--and your economy will implode. For those who read Hebrew, don't miss Dov Frohman's interview in Calcalist; the hero of Start-up Nation tells us we are heading for a catastrophic crisis without peace and new social investment (and, by implication, what he thinks of the book's authors).

6. Even if the "Goldstone Report" is under a cloud, another action in Gaza like "Cast Lead" is out of the question. The Arab world is no longer bolted down by dictators; and Israel will simply not be permitted to go after Hamas "infrastructure" when this means bombing civilians, with Al-Jazeera and CNN there to report every cell phone video.

7. Palestinians will not be forced to endorse a "Jewish state" pretty much like the one Israel has become. The fate of Israeli Arabs are the elephant in the room. Palestinians will, however, be forced to come to grips with international standards for human rights in their own state; and this will have implications for how Israelis refine their own democracy, opportunities for federal relations, tolerance for the Haredi dole, and so forth.

8. Obama is himself entertaining a plan, and the American foreign policy elite is behind him. The time for bilateral negotiations, which meant Israelis talking to one another about what "painful concessions" they will or won't make, is over. Palestine has the world at its back, even without the House Majority Leader.

9. Finally, Labor, much of Kadima, Haaretz, and much of the mainstream press, are no longer purveyors of "consensus." Political divisions are increasingly taken for granted. The left is reviving. Which brings us full circle to the first point, that Israel must finally decide what it is, even at the cost of social solidarity.

I wrote some time ago that the only hope for this country is that centrist leaders will be able point to outside pressures and make these seem more frightening than domestic insurgencies. Read this interview with Kadima's Tzipi Livni, or this plan advanced by (among others) Amran Mitzna, the current favorite to replace Ehud Barak as Labor leader, and ask yourself if that time has not come. The days grow short when you reach September.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

1967 Borders: Disruptive Innovation

Suddenly, it seems a forgone conclusion that the White House will be presenting a plan of some sort in advance of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint session of Congress in May. For those of us who have been advocating for something along these lines, this should be welcome news. But all of the preliminary reports I've seen suggest a plan that is no plan: "Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders; Palestinian acceptance that there would be no right to return to Israeli land; Jerusalem as the capital of both states; and the protection of Israel's security needs."

The problem with this formulation is twofold. First, it may seem important, even radical, that the administration would commit to a Palestinian state in the 1967 border, but nobody really expects the border to be the same as the one in 1967. The old border is only an agreed benchmark that will be used for a land swap. And thanks to Secretary Rice, this benchmark was already the basis for the many hours of negotiation between Olmert and Abbas throughout much of 2008. The 1967 border per se is not a contentious issue anymore. What is contentious are the number and forms of settlement that would remain in place, that is, what swap would be effected.

The administration knows very well that the Palestinian position foresees, at most, Israel's annexation of various Jerusalem suburbs, and thickly populated towns along the Israeli border, such as the Etzion bloc. This would leave about 62% of Israeli settlers in place. Israel, for its part, wants to see Ariel, Efrat, and Maale Adumim remain in place. (Here we have the difference between the Abbas map, which saw Israel swapping for 1.9 percent of the land, and the Olmert map, which foresaw a swap of somewhere between 5.5 and 6 percent.)

Click to enlarge
You may think the difference is trivial, but it is not. This is where even parties negotiating in good faith got stuck, as I pointed out recently. If Ariel remains in place, we would continue to have a finger protruding into the area between Nablus and Ramallah. If Maale Adumim remains in place, we would have a similar obstacle between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Efrat, which hems Bethlehem in from the south, seems the least intrusive settlement, and the most likely to be negotiated; but it is also the smallest and least important from the Israeli point of view.

Yes, it is time to look forward, not backward. So many opportunities come with a peace deal. Why not engineer a swap that disrupts the lives of as few people as possible? Here is where the border and the second problem, the refugee issue, intersect for Palestinians in ways Israelis tend to gloss over.

WHEN YOU SAY to Palestinians "let's disrupt as few lives as possible" they grow understandably furious. For the creation of Israel has disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for three generations, and the occupation has felt like something beyond disruption. It is a little like saying to them that there are two classes of human beings, people whose lives you try not to disrupt, and people who must simply take this kind of thing for granted. The Abbas offer already seems to Palestinians an extraordinary concession.

It is one thing, they say, to finesse the language around the Palestinian "right of return," so that all Palestinian refugees would, in effect, be resettled and compensated in a Palestinian state, not within the boundaries of Israel proper. It is quite another thing for Palestinians to make this concession, which they consider a grand, historical compromise, and then be told that Israeli towns that almost everyone now considers a mistake should be left to disrupt the development of Palestinian urban centers.

Israelis usually respond at such a moment, look, hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries also had their lives disrupted. Israel resettled them. Why not acknowledge that there was injustice in the past and get on with things? But it is precisely the effort to get on that seems impossible if the land fingers in question are not removed. The fact is, Jordan has already resettled at least as many Palestinians as Israelis resettled Middle Eastern Jews. The real challenge is to allow the Palestinians state to grow and thrive in its earliest stages. Does it make sense to interrupt the geographical contiguity, economic integration, and security systems of what will be, in effect, suburban centers for the sake of people who could easily be resettled in Israel proper, just as Palestinians are being resettled in Palestine?

THE POINT IS, opposition to new territorial concessions beyond Abbas's map (such as the ones Olmert sought) are going to be opposed not only by Hamas but also by Palestinian professionals and business elites who are looking forward to the responsibility of making a Palestinian state work. They may, as Salam Fayyad suggested, agree that if Jews want to live in these parts of the ancient land so much they are welcome to become Palestinian citizens. But Abbas will have as much trouble allowing Ariel to stay as Olmert would have had removing it.

And here is where the administration's plan comes in, or it is of no use at all. It must do more than provide a basis for further negotiation, as if the Netanyahu government has any desire to negotiate in the spirit Olmert did. The administration must innovate, state where the border will be, or at least the principles of mutual economic growth that will determine where it should be. Otherwise, the Obama plan will only reinforce the pathos of the deadlock rather than provide a way out of it.

A final note. When I talk to Israeli friends along these lines, many will express fury of their own, that Palestinians are now relying on mounting international pressure to get their way rather than negotiate. One feels that Israeli politics are changing, subtly, as the prospect of facing Palestinians who are enjoying a kind of world backing has begun to sink in. There is no end of talk about "September," about which more in my next post.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Last Words On Juliano Mer-Khamis and Goldstone

Instead of posting a comment about the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the award-wining poet Fred Marchant, veteran, activist, recent visitor to Jerusalem, and (gratefully) reader of this blog, sent me the following poem, which I thought I might share with you. It captures, touchingly, what one can only feel observing from afar something that feels strangely personal and terrible. I suggest you read his poem after watching this YouTube filmlet, the last thing Juliano prepared about his Jenin theater before he was gunned down.

“Here is what the mind does”

when my laptop opens to a small red car, a tight street,
the dust gray and yellow, the electric window half open,
and five little lean-to cards, on each a number to denote

where a spent round ended after traveling its distance
with lead certitude, with molten heat a match for its sense
of the truth, and when blood pooled by the opened door,

pooled and followed a tilt in the road, it was not far,
was more a lingering, as if it could choose not to leave,
and now that this man was gone it was standing around

like those on their way to and from, those with work
and school and small plastic bags of food, those merely
puzzled or curious, those who watch the men with duties

do them as quickly as they can, which is slowly, picking
through pieces, which is what the mind does at moments
like this and, honestly, it is not much more than nothing.

--For Juliano Mer-Khamis,April 4, 2011

MY FINAL TRY at making sense of Goldstone's reconsideration appears in today's Haaretz.  As I implied in my previous post about him, we all need good editors. I am indebted to David Green, the gifted editor of Haaretz's English editorials, for helping me say just what I meant to.

And this email came in from Leonard Fein:

Re: Goldstone

I haven't the time for a detailed analysis, but this is where I come down for the time being:

1. No one comes out of this looking worse than Goldstone himself. That was true even before we learned that in the OpEd piece he sent to the Times a week before submitting his piece to the Post, and which the Times rejected, he evidently said nothing about the issue of intentionality. That makes it seem as if he introduced that matter in order to ensure the Post would want it. Sleazy. I remain convinced that Goldstone was so deeply offended by Israel's refusal of cooperation (which was, in fact, utterly disrespectful) that his judgment was, and continues to be, impaired.

2. There was, and is, a much more proximate explanation than intentionality for the devastation that Israel caused during Cast Lead -- to wit, a policy decision by Israel not to take casualties. Pretty much everything follows from that. Goldstone does not at all address this issue in his OpEd piece. There, while he withdraws the most incendiary of his charges (intentionality), he leaves everything else in the original report intact.

3. Goldstone relies, in his OpEd piece, on the McGowan Davis report, which is in fact quite critical of Israel. It acknowledges Israel's efforts to investigate, but terms them not yet adequate and very belated, points as well to a significant conflict of interest.

4. Ehud Barak is a major offender in his response to Goldstone, but there are also the scoundrels who have decided that the real villain of the piece is the New Israel Fund. Rachel Liel's piece on that matter, available on line, is classy and wise. I recommend also B'Tselem's Jessica Montell's OpEd in today's Washington Post, which includes a devastating quote re the Goldstone OpEd from Gabriela Shalev, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations: "The one point of light is that if we have to defend ourselves against terror organizations again, we will be able to say there is no way to deal with this terror other than the same way we did in Cast Lead." Goldstone himself opened the door to that, but the politicians have gone well beyond what he said.

Israel's political echelon is, as expected, using the OpEd to exonerate the policy makers. They plainly intend to use the Goldstone shift as their principal defense when the need arises. Montell goes on to say, correctly, that "Shalev's words make chillingly clear that this debate is not only about the past but also about the future. For this reason it is vital that we move beyond the slogans and soundbites around Goldstone. Instead, we must honestly discuss how to ensure genuine accountability for past wrongs, full respect for international humanitarian law and protection for civilians in any future military operations."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Arna's Children

Today was the funeral for Juliano Mer-Khamis. I linked in a previous post to a YouTube site where the film, Arna's Children, could be seen in its entirety. The site took down the film for some reason, but it can be seen in nine parts beginning here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What Am I Missing?

Freud spoke about the narcissism of small differences. He might have added that where small differences are really small, they must always be adjusted to seem bigger.

Aaron David Miller, to whom I have been grateful since his thoughtful review of The Tragedy of Zionism in 1985 (more narcissism, I suppose), knows a great deal about peacemaking, but has in recent months positioned himself against the Obama administration taking any new initiative. Now he has published a rejoinder in the IHT to my op-ed in last week's IHT calling for just such an initiative. Here is mine, here is his.

What am I missing?

If I get this right, he is now agreeing that Obama should do something bold, but not articulate "another set of sterile American policy positions." So far so good (wait, is that what he is suggesting I am calling for?). He wants, "not bridging proposals," but "key American principles on core issues...On refugees and security, the president would have to be especially sensitive to Israeli needs; on Jerusalem and borders, to the Palestinians." Oh, okay.

Miller then suggests a different way of selling the proposal. Not a Quartet-Group of 20-Arab League effort, followed by a trip to Israel and Palestine, but a trip to Israel and Palestine "flanked by Arab leaders." (Miller admits that Netanyahu and Abbas are not "remotely" open to this kind of theater, so I am not sure what is gained by leaving out pressure from the rest of the world, but never mind.)

Aaron, how about this:
1) an Obama initiative is critical, and before the election of 2012,
2) the basis for a US proposal would be principles that suggest how to close obvious gaps in past negotiations,
3) any proposal would make sense of what it means to have a Palestinian state "in the 1967 border," anticipating a resolution to this effect in the UN in the fall, and
4) it should be sold through dramatic diplomatic theater over time, and sold directly to the people, knowing the chances that current leaders will immediately sign on are small.


By the way, the indefatigable Ethan Bronner reports that there is a new proposal by eminent Israelis in the works:

"The document calls for the 1967 lines to be a basis for borders, with agreed modifications based on swaps that would not exceed 7 percent of the West Bank.

Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods would go to Israel, and Arab neighborhoods to Palestine; the Temple Mount, known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, would be under no sovereignty, although the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter of the Old City would be under Israel. On Palestinian refugees, the plan suggests financial compensation and return to the state of Palestine, not Israel, with “mutually agreed-upon symbolic exceptions” allowed into Israel."

Again, am I missing something?

This new proposal is exactly like the one Ehud Olmert put before Abbas two years ago and Abbas finally rejected, for all the reasons I outlined in the Times Magazine: Ariel, Maale Adumin, and Efrat, for starters. (Bronner, who helped me with the piece, knows this, of course, but he is just reporting here.)

Obviously, Israelis are going to have to get used to the idea that they are not just talking to themselves. They will not simply be able to dictate a border or ignore long-standing Palestinian objections to the creation of facts.

Which is why we need an American initiative.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Heartbreaking News: Juliano Mer-Khamis

The extraordinary Israeli actor and film-maker was shot dead in Jenin today. Nobody really knows by whom.

I say Israeli with extreme reverence and sorrow. Mer-Khamis was born to a Jewish mother and Arab father. It is hard to imagine a man who embodied more completely the compassion we will need to grow into peace. If you have not seen his film, "Arna's Children," about his late mother's efforts to start a theater school in Jenin in the 1990s--and the ways her charges grew into insurgents and terrorists--you will understand nothing about this conflict.

Arna was a former Palmach fighter whose physician father famously worked to eradicate malaria. She and Juliano hoped theater would help young Palestinian boys work out their feelings of rage. His film about this effort and what followed during the Al-Aqsa Intifida may also be the most convincing depiction of the pathos of revenge since "Hamlet."

Change your plans for tonight. Watch the film here, on YouTube, in tribute. Try not to watch it alone.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Goldstone's Reconsideration

Richard Goldstone is a good man in need of a good editor. His report would never have attracted so much lightning had it not started off the way it did, trying to chronicle the terrible events of the Gaza operation, along with all the preliminary allegations of war crimes, before getting to context, testimony, caveats, and definitions (see especially pp. 10-26). By the time you got through the first section, you either had to be furious with Israel or with him.

Now Goldstone says in the lead of his Washington Post op-ed piece what everybody will remember, but which he does not really go on to prove, that to have known then what is known now would have meant a materially different report, hence, a different reaction to the Gaza operation.

In effect, he is apologizing for reporting that Israeli soldiers intentionally harmed civilians. He is saying, now, that he's looked at Israel's own investigations into the matter, and third party confirmations, and concluded that "intention" could not be ascribed and is perhaps implausible; that had the Israeli government cooperated with him, reasonable doubt about IDF actions would have emerged earlier.

Hamas missiles, he adds, were of course war crimes. Hamas has not investigated its own actions at all. As to Israel, "our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion." You get the idea that Israel was wronged.

Needless to say, Benjamin Netanyahu is on the offensive and Alan Dershowitz is clearing his throat for the I-told-you-so tour of the talk shows. Sadly, what Goldstone does not regret is a report that distracted from the wrongness of Cast Lead in the first place.

I NEVER COMMENTED on the Goldstone report--though (like my colleagues at J Street) I believed its various allegations should have been investigated--because it left me frustrated in the same way that internal criticism of the Israeli military by philosopher-framers of the IDF code of conduct left me frustrated. In the former case, we were invited to believe that IDF commanders in the ground intentionally targeted civilians as a matter of policy, in the latter, that IDF commanders on the ground did not do enough, including risk their soldiers' lives, to protect civilians. In both cases, the criticism missed the point.

I argued at the time that, irrespective of anyone's intentions, a military action like Cast Lead could not be undertaken without assuming in advance that civilian casualties would be very high. Israel's military strategists had made it plain that the operation was meant to "reestablish deterrence" ("lekasaiach et ha'deshe" or "mow the lawn," as the phrase du jour had it); that the way to handle Hamas missile attacks was through destruction of Hamas "infrastructure," which could lead to only one result.

Once young Israeli soldiers were put in harm's way--with this mission, in that context--asking them to behave differently from the way they did was unfair and hypocritical. The idea that we need a judge to determine if the targeting civilians was intentional suggests that it is important to distinguish between trying to cause, and merely being cavalier about, Palestinian suffering.

ISRAEL SHOULD NEVER have come close to undertaking an operation of this kind, where loss of innocent life was bound to be so grim, since it had not come close to exhausting every possible diplomatic avenue for achieving an overall settlement. Yes, there were missiles. Yes, this was a crime against Israeli civilians that had to be stopped. No, (most) Israelis are not cruel. But when the historian Barbara Tuchman coined the phrase "march of folly," it was to this kind of situation she referred.

By the time December 2009 came around, prior decisions, and failures of nerve, had limited everyone's options. Political leaders were inevitably drawn into a military action whose goal, other than to "make a statement," was uncertain but whose consequences were predictable. Some 400 children were eventually killed, and many more were injured or traumatized. That is just the worst of it.

Historians will not wonder why Hamas launched missiles. The organization thrives on confrontation and missiles were their sucker punch. Historians may well wonder why Olmert's government had not long before taken all steps to discredit Hamas; stopped all settlement activity, or fought publicly for principles Olmert secretly agreed to in talks with Abbas, or renounced targeted assassination and invited Hamas to renew the cease-fire, or invited it to reiterate its prior commitment to respect any deal Abbas concluded and submitted it to a referendum, or agreed to an international monitoring force, which Hamas had asked for.

If you are serious about peace, you see, there was an alternative track all along to military tit-for-tat. The point to debate after the operation should not have been whether Israeli soldiers committed war crimes but whether the continued occupation, and a continuing policy of vendetta, were only prolonging contravention of international law and getting Israel deeper into an international ditch. (The unilateral withdrawal of settlements from Gaza did not resolve this matter, since it was expressly done to consolidate Israel's hold on the West Bank.)

Ironically, inevitably, Goldstone's report, focusing as it did on the conduct of the Israeli military after the attack was launched, only obscured the larger tragedy. The hyperbole in the report ("intentional targeting of civilians," etc.) made it the target of people who were only too happy to look at three months and not at two decades. Goldstone's report made it more difficult for the peace camp to bring a sense of history to the question. So will his reconsideration.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Young Israelis, Young American Jews

The Macro Center for Political Economic Research has just published a remarkable study, conducted in association with the polling agency Dahaf, and leading political consultant Dahlia Scheindlin, about attitudes among young Israelis. As Haaretz noted in its disquieting page one story about the study, Israeli Jewish youth "put defining Israel as a Jewish state as a number one goal, while fewer youths recognize the importance of Israel identity as a democratic country." 

Along with the polling numbers, Macro is publishing a number of explanatory essays. The study's leaders shared the preliminary data with me and asked me to reflect on the differences between Israeli Jewish and American Jewish youth. Here is the result.

FOR VIRTUALLY ANY young American Jew, what would jump out from the data tracking attitudes of young Israelis is the divergence between Jews and Arabs regarding co-existence, acceptance of “the other”—call it “social integration.” Up to 80% of Israeli Arabs express positive attitudes toward integration (a willingness to have Jewish friend, and so forth), but just under 50% of Jews. 

This mirrors almost exactly the split Jews expect in America, except that over there, it is the Jews who exhibit the most positive ideas about integration (revealingly, about 80% voted for Obama in 2008), while the non-Jewish, white, Christian majority-in-decline tends to be about evenly split between liberals and people with more reactionary views. (The latter gains in clout during hard economic times.)

America is a much larger and more complex country, of course, but the data are intriguing nevertheless. For they imply what common sense suggests, that although the liberalism of American Jews regarding integration may have something to do with Jewish values, the protections that favor integration in America also happen to be in the interest of Jews, who have always been a minority seeking social advancement. As Philip Roth put it, this was a community growing up valorizing Roosevelt, LaGuardia and Justice Brandeis. 

The very high proportion of liberalism among educated Jews was, and is, very much like the high proportion of liberalism among educated Israeli Arabs, who have become something like America’s Jews in this ironic respect. It reminds one of John Maynard Keynes’s famous adage—or at least the negative version of it—that it is hard to get people not to believe in a principle when their living depends on their believing it.

A related point: Approximately 40% of young Israeli Jews believe (about a third, strongly) that the state should not offer civil marriage. One may infer that this very substantial group considers it natural, or at least defensible, that the state make intermarriage very difficult, or that halachic law governing personal status be the law of the land, or that rabbinic authority be a part of state authority, or all three; that this negative attitude toward civil marriage is a proxy for skepticism toward the rights of citizens in civil society more generally, and reflects the proportion of Israeli Jewish youth that one can characterize as religiously Orthodox to some significant degree. Not coincidentally, this 40% turns out to be roughly the proportion that has little or no faith in the Israeli judiciary, which is widely considered to be the country’s most consistent defender of secular rights.

Again, American Jewish youth, much like their parents, would tend to look at responses of this kind with suspicion and disdain, though many might moderate their criticism of Israel in public. Indeed, the theocratic tinge to certain Israeli laws, the prominence of political parties seeking to extend halachic privilege, the national Orthodox caste of the settlers, the fierce determination of Greater Israel supporters—all of these things—cannot be irrelevant to the growing alienation from Israel that American Jewish college students profess. And the fact that some “pro-Israel” activists on campuses overlook discrimination against Arabs in Israel, demand equality for Jews in America—and invoke the “war on terror,” or “the new anti-Semitism,” when caught in the contradiction—only deepens the alienation.

Consider the growing chasm. About half of American Jewish young people marry non-Jews; all Jews take civil marriage completely for granted. One searches in vain for any recent poll that bothers to ask whether young Jews favor the separation of religion and state in America. The response would be near 100%. Nor do Jews tend to feel comfortable with American counterparts of Israeli theocrats. According to a recent Gerstein Agne poll, American Jews oppose, by nearly 80-20%, forming even tactical alliances (to support Israel diplomatically, say) with evangelical Christian groups. I mean rightist American groups whose attitudes toward religion and state roughly mirror those of the 40% of young Israelis who oppose civil marriage.

Yes, some young American Jews, like young evangelicals, for that matter, make allowances for Israel—the “Jewish state”—and overlook violations of the very secular principles they rely on in America. But the steady rise of national and “ultra” orthodoxy in Israel, along with its association with settlements and occupation, almost certainly explain why more than half of American Jews under 35 said that they “would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy.” Only 54% profess to be “comfortable” with the idea of a Jewish state at all.

NO DOUBT, ALL of this begs the question of whether Israeli Jews and American Jews mean the same thing when they speak about “Jews” in the first place. In fact, they do not. During WWII, of course, many grew to believe what classical political Zionism suggested, that Jews around the world constituted a single people, even an incipient nation, rooted in shared (if attenuated) religious practices or memories of the Eastern European hinterland. If this were still true, then the data regarding attitudes of young Israeli Jews might well be contrasted with attitudes of young Jews in the United States, something like the way those of New York Jews might be contrasted with Quebec Jews, or, indeed, attitudes of Israeli Jews might be contrasted with Israeli Arabs.

In fact, however, the ways young people in Israel experience Jewish identity diverge so fundamentally from the ways of American Jews do, it is hard to see what comparisons prove. For most secular (including traditional but non-Orthodox) Israelis, about 60% of young people, Jewishness is more or less coterminous with Israeliness, though Israeli nationality is not even recognized in the Registry of Populations.

A young secular Israeli speaks the Hebrew language, which implicitly resonates with verses of Torah, or the poetics of traditional liturgy, or the lyrics of traditional music, or the precepts of Jewish law; one lives in the ancient land and considers oneself privileged to share in popular Hebrew culture, from television to the stage; one serves in the army, builds a business, or builds a home, which—given the terrible events of the 20th. century—feels the positive culmination of modern Jewish history. One celebrates in one’s family, and as public holidays, the traditional festivals of Judaism’s calendar.

One lives, in short, in a modern, globalized national home, and being a Jew mostly means being a free citizen of the Jewish nation. (One is Jewish in the sense that one is home, with all the myths, frustrations, ambitions, and sentimental attachments this implies. Ordinary life gives “identity” the way trees give apples.)

In America, however, Jewish identity is quite different for young people with secular values and no particular connection to Orthodox Judaism. It may be any one, or combination, of responses to quite different perceptions, and its requires a positive act of, well, identification. There are young people who, because of a strong connection to a parent or grandparent, embrace the pathos of the immigrant Jewish experience; think of writers like, and readers of, Michael Chabon.

There are young people who consider it a particular privilege to have “Americanized” by overturning American orthodoxies and taboos with Jewish iconoclasm; think of Philip Roth a generation ago, or Jon Stewart today. Again, there are young secular Jews who think of themselves as the quintessential American minority, the ontological victim of Western civilization, and take their Jewishness as a way of defying bigotry and valorizing constitutional liberties and civil rights. Correspondingly, there are young secular Jews whose organizing historical fact is the Holocaust.

In a famous poll published in 1999 by the American Jewish Committee, 98 per cent of American Jews said they consider the Holocaust to be an important or very important part of their identity. But only 15-20 per cent said that they observe Jewish religious obligations and traditions—the sands around which secular Israelis make their pearls.

  Read the whole essay...